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The Opinion Page: One of Us

The Opinion Page: One of Us

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

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Last week at this time, we were all glued to our TV sets, watching the awful news out of Virginia Tech. As the number of dead and injured grew, we all understood the depth of the tragedy, but nobody knew the identity of the killer. As the day wore on, and rumors leaked out that the shooter might be Asian, many Asian Americans felt a sense of dread. And, when Seung-Hui Cho was identified, some in the Korean American community confronted a sense of shared responsibility. In an op-ed last week in the Los Angeles Times, Edward Taehan Chang, himself Korean-American, argued that he will not be able to completely shake his sense of responsibility for the tragedy, but he will try. The real lesson of Blacksburg, he says, is that we all need to reach across ethnic lines and racial boundaries to help people see that violence is never the answer. Is this sense of shared responsibility common among ethnic groups? Do you feel worse if you resemble the perpetrator of a crime?



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I am not a member of a minority group, but even as a white American I have felt part of this collective guilt. When I studied abroad, I felt shame for American policies that have hurt people in other nations, especially the nation I was in. Though I did not personally take part in creating those policies, it was very difficult to not feel personally responsible for certain things that "Americans do."

Sent by Shannon | 2:45 PM | 4-23-2007

I don't believe the ethnic identity has anything to do with the whole group. Everyone is set as an individual. It's biased, it's racist, it's stereotyping. It's the same type of thing that was made religiously, such as the muslims during 9/11. Even the Oklahoma City Bombing was a prejudiced stereotyping. They believed it was an Arabic person, and it's come to find that it's Timothy McVay. It's not right that it's being done, but I don't deny that it does happen.

Sent by Anna Chopra | 2:49 PM | 4-23-2007

i am not a minority, i'm a caucasian american, and am deeply ashamed of our president's actions around the world... i think a lot of our country severely lacks any shared sense of responsibility that some minority groups may have...

Sent by shannon | 2:49 PM | 4-23-2007

I felt a forced and humbling self-evaluation of my own stereotypes, expecting the gunman to be any anything but asian. I am a vietnamese- american and was forced to question my own prejudice concerning these kinds of outlandish crimes, hypocritically thinking that an asian was not capable of committing such an act. It also made me confront my own stereotypes of my own race and how the "us" vs "them" social construct can be extremely dangerous when applied on a societal level.

Sent by Clifford | 2:52 PM | 4-23-2007

I don't think it's so much an issue of collective guilt, as collective worry. It's not that I think that, as a Jew, I'm somehow responsible when a Jew does something wrong. I just don't want it to be one of us. I don't want to add fuel to those who already hate Jews.

In a similar vein, as a gun-owner, the first thing I thought of when I heard of the shooting was, "Oh no. Another big opportunity for the anti-gun brigade to come hunting for my rights."

Sent by David | 2:55 PM | 4-23-2007

As a white, educated, employeed, "thirty-something" male, I feel such a feeling of guilt every time I hear George Bush speak.

Sent by Peter Burchell | 3:01 PM | 4-23-2007

In my opinion a sense of collective guilt and shared responsibility SHOULD be felt by: the increasingly fanatical NRA; the politicians who base their votes on their perception of the power of the NRA, rather than on sanity, reason or what is right; the mass media who saturate the culture with violence, and those passive Americans who accept the ever escalating violence as "everyday life in America".

Sent by Gretchen Nulty, South Bend, Indiana | 3:52 PM | 4-23-2007

I'm an African-American male. I'm 44 years old and am identified as "colored" on my birth certificate. As a southern black man, I believe that an unspoken aspect of the ethnic identification issue is the fear of the lynch mob which for which "backlash" is the politically correct term these days. The indiscriminate acts of violence in retaliation for real or imagined offenses is a time honored tradition in america. When I heard G Bush trying to link Iraq and Saddam Hussein to the acts of Al Quaeda and the elusive Osama bin Laden. I knew that I was about to witness a global lynching.

Sent by Greg Whitener | 6:39 PM | 4-23-2007

As a half asian and half caucasian American, I've been very receptive to the way Asian Americans are portrayed in the media as well as how they are received in local communities.

A friend, who is Korean American, made an inappropriate joke that his classmates "tensed up" when he walked in the door. The fact that Asian Americans, Asian-Am men in general, are/were hardly viewed as threatening individuals, is a topic that comes up for discussion as a result.

As for feeling a sense of responsibility, I want to say that Asians Americans, especially Korean Americans should not shoulder the burden of responsibility for this unfortunate act. The fact that some communities are, I'm sure will be appreciated.

Because of how the killer was introduced, as a South Korean individual living in the US, there seems to be an automatic separation of race, nationality and responsibility. This is a problem that we all share and will hopefully work through together.

Sent by Jessica | 7:13 PM | 4-23-2007

As a person who could be considered part of the so-called majority (white American), I feel a guilt- not sure how collective it is- that the majority group has put minorities in these situations (labeling someone as Korean American automatically labels and segregates, no one calls me Hungarian American because I am white). As a minority, in a country that is considered a 'melting pot', I think majority people should take more efforts to make minorities assimilate and feel comfortable. What I hope comes out of this tragedy is more awareness of mental health concerns, especially from minorities. I work in the mental health care field and the majority of clients are of the majority mostly what I feel, is because of minorities stigmas to mental illness. This is something to think about and hope that more people in all ethnic and cultural minorities will become more sensitive to the real issues of mental illnesses.

Sent by Jennifer | 8:03 PM | 4-23-2007

I never felt a shared responsibility with the actions of Seung Hi Cho. Despite being a second-generation American (my parents immigrated from Korea and naturalized soon after), I was more angered that the violence occurred at an educational institution. As a recent university graduate, I felt an intense solidarity with the VA Tech community rather than some sort of ethnic complicity with Cho.

Nevertheless, I can understand why some Korean-Americans may feel guilt. The LA Times op-ed correctly related Korean-America's unfounded need to apologize to the largely collectivist Korean culture.

On the other hand, those of us who are "culturally Americanized" should feel no shame towards the actions of Cho. It is notable that the media rather quickly stopped referring to Cho as a South Korean. I think that most of us promptly realized that Cho's ethnicity had as much of a role in his murderous actions as his English major did. We should all pay more attention to the warnings signs of depression and mental health, which apparently had almost everything to do with Cho's actions.

Sent by E Kim | 12:46 AM | 4-24-2007

As soon as the word was out that the shooter was of Korean birth, I heard that there was this shared feeling of guilt among the Asian, particularly Korean, community. I immediately wished I could somehow let these people know that it was OUR culture of guns, violence and class division that created the pain that undermined this young man's mental health. AMERICANS ARE THE ONES WHO SHOULD FEEL THIS GUILT. I apologize to the Korean people and all people of Asian descent for this tragedy that impacted every single person who died that day and every single person who felt the pain of that event. We as a culture are at fault and only we, as a people, can change this culture.

Sent by Susan M. Garrett | 10:34 AM | 4-25-2007